After reading Vidya’s review of her favourite childhood novel “Neela Mala“, I was tempted to revisit some of the classics of the past. In this quest, I discovered “Burma Ramani“, another interesting full-length children’s fiction written by the Tamil poet Azha. Valliappa.
The protagonist of the story is a 13-year old orphan boy Ramani. He is introduced as an errand-boy in the Sri Murugan Bala Nadaga Sabha in Chennai. The manager of the Sabha, Maruthanayagam finds him pulling a rickshaw, gives him shelter and a job, because he finds Ramani to have very high values. Soon, the owner of the Sabha, Mohanarangam and others around him suspect Ramani of theft and he is sent packing.
But Maruthanayagam is not convinced and takes all efforts to find Ramani. He even requests the help of his brother-in-law in Tiruchi to look for him there. There are a few false finds, but all in vain, leaving Maruthanayagam desperate.
Meanwhile, Ramani reaches Kanchipuram. One day, he helps restore some valuables of a wealthy man, Sirsabesan. He and his family, consisting of wife and daughter, Malathi take pity on his plight and take him into the family.
In a few months, Sirsabesan relocates to Burma with his family and takes Ramani with him in the pretext of his son. At Mandalay in Burma, Ramani mingles and blends easily into the family and the neighbourhood. He is the story-teller for the children in the neighbourhood and enjoys it.
His and his new found family’s happy existence is disturbed when he is kidnapped for ransom. How he is restored to his family forms the rest of the story.
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- Simple plot and naive storytelling, characteristic of the yester years. One has to go back in time to relish it.
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The joy of reading a classic is the window that it opens to the culture of a certain period and place. I tried recording those aspects of the story which were perfectly acceptable for that period, but will not work in today’s world. Here they are:
- I am always surprised, how protagonists were too good to be true, in the stories of the past. As against them, today’s stories have started celebrating protagonists with negative shades in character.
- Characters are either black or white – good or bad. There are no in-betweens. The bad ones are either caught and punished in the end or turn over a new leaf. Maruthanayagam, who sheltered Ramani for a few months, goes to great lengths to find him. Absolutely unimaginable today.
- The introducing scene of the story is two children discussing in awe “Krishna Leela”, a play which they watched the previous evening. It made me wonder what my pre-teen child would say about a play as described by them. Pat came to my mind a picture of her dismissing it as ‘boring’. There was a time when mythological plays gave so much pleasure to the spectators – a time when there was minimal entertainment available.
- Can I contain my wonder while reading about salaries of 1 or 2 rupees for errand boys, 4 silk sarees worth Rs.1,000 and a ransom of Rs.10,000?
- Anandan, nephew of Marudhanayagam, claims that he knew almost all boys of Tiruchi. Can anyone claim that of a city today?
- Everyone writes letters, between cities and between countries. In case of emergencies, they send telegrams. Alas, the telegram has been laid to rest today.
- The “Thinnai”(திண்ணை )s of the houses built in the last century – a mark of hospitality inbuilt, without getting into inconvenience or security hassles.
- The kidnappers, in a fit of anger in not getting Ramani to write a letter, cane him on his legs. Today, we are used to not just reading about, but also watching very realistic and thousand-fold cruel treatment meted out to children.
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- I could not locate the name of the first publisher and publication date of the book. If you know of it, will you please drop a comment here?
. . .
- All works of the author Azha. Valliappa have been nationalized.
A whiff of nostalgia.
|Editor(s)/Author(s)/Illustrator(s)/Translator(s)||குழந்தைக் கவிஞர் அழ. வள்ளியப்பா (Azha. Valliappa)|